2020 NFL Team Previews: Chicago Bears
2020 NFL Team Previews
By Professor MJ
It was a roller-coaster ride for the Bears last year. They started with a 3-1 record before losing five of their next six meetings. They concluded the season by winning four of the last six games, but it wasn’t enough to qualify for the playoffs.
After a NFC North title in 2018, Da Bears ended with a disappointing 8-8 record last season.
The offense was often criticized (deservedly so), and changes needed to be made.
2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown
2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)
Mitchell Trubisky has had an uncharacteristic journey in the NFL thus far. After being selected as the number two overall pick, he had a rookie season where he threw 7 TD passes versus 7 picks. He took a nice leap in his sophomore year with 24 TDs and 12 interceptions, while leading the team to its first division title since 2010.
QBs showing such a nice growth from year 1 to year 2 rarely crash down the following season, but that pretty much describes Trubisky’s third year in the league. He graded as the 30th-best QB in the NFL out of 37 qualifiers based on PFF rankings.
This situation was inexplicable. It’s not like the team had lost many key pieces on offense. What happened to Trubisky?
GM Ryan Pace has set up nicely a good QB battle in camp between Trubisky and newly acquired Nick Foles.
What’s interesting is Foles himself has had ups-and-downs in his career. He was outstanding in 2013 by throwing 27 TDs versus just 2 interceptions! He also led the Eagles to a Super Bowl in the 2017 season, after Carson Wentz went down to an injury. Foles also performed well in 2018.
However, he wasn’t so good in 2014, 2015 and more recently 2019. What type of quarterback will he be in the windy city? Who’s going to get the starting nod?
My own guess is Foles win the job early on. He is already familiar with the head coach, the QB coach and the offensive coordinator. Learning the playbook won’t be as difficult as if these guys had never worked together in the past.
Backup QB Chase Daniel left for a division rival: the Detroit Lions.
Overall, adding Foles over Daniel is clearly an upgrade over 2019, while also keeping in mind the fact that Trubisky may return to his previous form (which is not impossible for a young guy like him).
2.2 Running Backs (RBs)
What the heck happened to Tarik Cohen? I have always liked small and fast guys. For this reason, he had become one of my favorite guys to watch. Watching him last year (and the entire offense) was sad.
His yards per rush average went from 4.5 to 3.3. His yards per catch average went from 10.2 to 5.8. He couldn’t get going all season long.
In 2017 and 2018, Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen were a great version of the thunder-and-lightning combo. Despite losing Howard, the production wasn’t supposed to drop significantly because of the acquisition of David Montgomery through the draft.
That’s not how things played out. The team went from 11th to 27th place in terms of rushing yards per game (from 2018 to 2019). Montgomery finished the year with a disappointing 3.7 yards per carry average.
Both Montgomery and Cohen will be back in 2020. Perhaps they’ll do better this year, but I don’t expect a huge upgrade either.
2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)
Finally a guy that has produced consistent results in this offense: Allen Robinson!
Catching 98 balls for 1,147 yards and 7 TDs despite such bad QB play was phenomenal! You can count on him to generate good numbers again, especially in a contract year.
A former second-round pick, Anthony Miller caught 52 passes last season after catching 33 the year before. The only blemish was the number of TD receptions, which went from 7 to 2.
Miller started the year slowly following an offseason injury that made him miss some time in camp. His role could be increased after the departure of Taylor Gabriel.
The Bears pulled the plug on the Taylor Gabriel experiment. After showing some flashes with the Falcons, he never lived up to expectations in Chicago.
Again, the production from this group may be steady in 2020.
2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)
I’m sorry Bears fans, but one of the worst free agent acquisitions, in my humble opinion, was Jimmy Graham for two years and $16 million. The price paid versus the production doesn’t make sense at all.
If you look at his numbers, you can see a clear decline. His first seven seasons were a success; his lowest mark according to PFF during that time span was 74.7. Then, he received a 66.0 grade in 2017. And then 59.6 in 2018, followed by 58.0 last year. To make matters worse, remember that the last two years were with the Packers, who happen to have a quarterback named Aaron Rodgers (have you heard of him?).
Trey Burton was another huge disappointment last year. After catching 54 passes a couple of years ago, he only caught 14 in eight games. He was released and picked up by the Colts.
The team drafted Cole Kmet in the second round in this year’s draft. He’s a classic tight end who can do a little bit of everything. He provides good run blocking, albeit sometimes a bit inconsistent. He doesn’t have that much experience as a pass catcher since he only started racking up decent stats last year, but he has a big catch radius. He will likely need time to develop into a solid starter.
The Bears also have Adam Shaheen in their roster, a 2nd round pick from the 2017 draft. He has bust written all over him.
As if they didn’t have enough tight ends, Chicago went on to sign Demetrius Harris, formerly of the Browns. He graded as the 66th-best tight end out of 66 qualifiers. Enough said.
This group did very little last year. A bunch of six guys combined for 46 catches. Despite the questionable moves, I expect a small upgrade. Perhaps Graham can magically rejuvenate his career?
2.5 Offensive Line (OL)
Four out of five starters are returning: Cody Whitehair, James Daniels, Charles Leno and Bobby Massie. Only Daniels graded as above-average; the others finished in the middle of the pack (or even lower).
Kyle Long announced his retirement, while semi-starter Cornelius Lucas left for Washington. The new starter on the OL will be Germain Ifedi, who made at least 13 starts in each of his first four seasons in the league (all with the Seahawks).
In summary, we have a not-so great starter being replace by a not-so great player. Therefore, we can expect similar results to 2019, which was average play.
2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE
Inconsistency is a recurring theme for many players from this unit: Trubisky, Foles and Cohen.
My final conclusion is a small upgrade over 2019, mainly because of the QB position. The chances are fairly good that either Foles provides a spark, or Trubisky regains his 2018 form. However, don’t expect a MVP-type of season for any one of them.
The rest of the offense should expect similar output. Acquiring Jimmy Graham and Germain Ifedi is nothing to write home about, just as losing Taylor Gabriel isn’t a big loss either.
Final call (2020 vs 2019):
Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade
3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown
3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)
The interior defenders did a fairly good job. Roy Robertson-Harris, Nick Williams and Eddie Goldman all graded as above-average DLs in 2019. Only Bilal Nichols received poor grades, but he played less often.
Nick Williams left for Detroit, but the Bears expect to get Akiem Hicks in 2020. He suited up for just five games last year. He’s been a dominating force for them the previous three years. His return on the field will make a big difference.
So, despite Williams’ departure, this group should do better in 2020 than the year before, mainly because of Hicks’ return.
3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)
Khalil Mack’s sack production went down in 2019 with “only” 8.5. He had recorded 12.5, 10.5, 11 and 15 in its previous four campaigns. Still, Mack finished as the #14 edge defender out of 107 guys. He is constantly disrupting plays from opposing offenses.
The Bears lost Leonard Floyd who went to the Rams, but they quick found a replacement with Robert Quinn, coming over from Dallas. Floyd is two years younger and averaged 4.6 sacks per season, while Quinn has gotten 8.9 sacks per year over his nine-year career. Quinn is a better pass rusher, while Floyd plays the run better.
All in all, I expect similar results as 2019 from this unit.
3.3 Linebackers (LBs)
One more guy who saw a dip in productivity was Roquan Smith. After receiving a 67.0 grade in his rookie season, he only got 52.4 last year. He played the run well, but his coverage and pass rushing weren’t nearly as good in 2019. I do believe the former #8 pick overall can come back very strong in 2020.
Danny Trevathan missed six games because of an injury, but he played pretty well when he was on the field. I am not worried about him.
Backups Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis both left in free agency. Both played very well while filling in for injured starters. Their losses take a blow to Chicago’s linebacker depth.
3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)
Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara were the clear starters in 2019. Despite finishing as PFF’s number 41 CB out of 112 qualifiers, Amukamara was released by the Bears for cap reasons.
Still, the team needs to replace him. Can Buster Skrine or Kevin Toliver assume that #2 role? I’m not so sure about that…
Chicago hopes to fill the void via the selection of Jaylon Johnson in the 2nd round last April. The number one concern about him is health; he has undergone through three shoulder surgeries over the years.
Johnson’s speed and explosiveness are below average, but he makes up for it with great competitiveness and smart-play.
3.5 Safeties (S)
We are rounding the defensive side of the ball with the safeties. Things were pretty simple in 2019, as both Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Eddie Jackson played 99% of the defensive snaps. They ranked 19th and 46th out of 87 safeties, respectively, according to PFF.
The problem is Clinton-Dix is gone to Dallas. Last year the Bears vacated the vacancy created at the safety position when Adrian Amos left for Green Bay by acquiring Clinton-Dix, but now that he’s also gone they have a glaring hole at the position.
2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE
The Bears allowed the fourth-fewest points in the league last season. Can we expect a similary good 2020 season? I doubt it.
First, the good news. Akiem Hicks is back from an injury that made him miss 11 games and the team acquired steady sack producer Robert Quinn from Dallas.
The bad news? Losing DL Nick Williams, DE Leonard Floyd, LBs Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis, CB Prince Amukamara and S Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix. That’s a lot of bodies that need to be replaced. We’re talking about at least 4 new starters and some key depth.
Overall, my guess is it takes a moderate blow to the Bears’ defense. Their front seven is likely to remain very good, but the secondaries worry me. I wouldn’t fall off my chair if the team went from 4th-best in points allowed to the 10th-12th range.
Final call (2020 vs 2019):
Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade
4. Regular Season Wins
According to sportsbooks, the Chicago Bears are expected to win 8.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?
Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:
- Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
- Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
- Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
- Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
- Count the proportion of seasons where the Bears won more or less than 8.5 games.
Here are the results:
- Tip: Bet UNDER 8.5 wins
- Return On Investment (ROI): +9.7%
- Rank: 26th-highest ROI out of 32 teams
- Minimum odds required to bet (i.e. ROI = 0%): -163
Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Bears’ 16 regular season games:
- HOME: -5 vs DET, 0 vs GB, -3.5 vs HOU, -1.5 vs IND, 0 vs MIN, +2.5 vs NO, -5 vs NYG, -1 vs TB.
- ROAD: +2 @ ATL, -2.5 @ CAR, +1.5 @ DET, +4.5 @ GB, +1 @ JAX, +3.5 @ LAR, +4 @ MIN, +3 @ TEN.
Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.
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